March 5, 2013
A push by Coles to reshape the free-range egg market through a dramatic reduction in space for hens has come under fire, after two animal welfare groups questioned whether the eggs are genuinely free-range. The new Coles standard, which the egg industry is spending millions of dollars to meet, allows for one square metre per hen. This is 10,000 hens per hectare, almost a seven-fold reduction in space from the voluntary guidelines of 1500 hens per hectare. As there is no legal standard, industry observers expect Woolworths and Aldi to follow Coles, leading to a supermarket-driven redefinition of free range. But the RSPCA, which has applauded Coles for dumping its home brand cage eggs and endorses its barn-laid eggs, wants more scientific evidence that hens are not harmed by the ”dramatically increased” stocking densities in its intensive free-range systems, with 30,000-hen sheds common. The Coles standard, to be featured on egg cartons within weeks, allows for inside densities of 12 birds per square metre but every hen is within nine metres of an exit. RSPCA farm animals scientific officer Melina Tensen said it was unclear how many hens venture outside. ”Until we see evidence that the birds are moving around and accessing the outdoors, then we would call [this] a barn system, rather than a free-range system,” she said. Coles’ head of responsible sourcing Jackie Healing said the benchmark gave consumers affordable free-range eggs and certainty. ”We’ve done more to clarify stocking densities in free-range systems in this country than has ever been done before,” she said.